Chances are you’re interested in better ways to handle your investments. That’s why you are reading this article. One big question often goes unanswered by people on this quest: Should you manage your own money?
A US News article last year addressed the wisdom of being a self-directed investor—that is, a person who manages one’s own portfolio. They listed some helpful guidelines for young, old, and in-between investors who want to try their hand at the market. We expanded on this list for our interested readers and came up with seven habits common in highly ineffective investors.
1) Avoiding getting plugged in.
Ever see full-service gas stations anymore? Rarely, if ever, and the price difference is huge. If you can’t pump your own gas, you probably don’t drive. Likewise, today’s full-service brokers are not eager to talk to you unless you have a very large portfolio. That leaves you with the discount firms, and if you can’t operate an online brokerage account you will be locked out of many opportunities. In addition, you are up against other investors who get information immediately – not to mention professionals with the latest technology. The ability to place trades and monitor your accounts habitually online is essential for today’s self-managed investor.
2) Strategy is just a word.
Getting stock tips and trading those tips is not a plan for trading your retirement account. You should develop a strategy that fits your investing philosophy. Are you a value investor who looks for under-performing stocks, selling when they become fully valued? Or do you look for growth opportunities with bullish momentum? Do you believe in fundamental or technical analysis? Bottom Up or Top Down methodology? Decide on a style and find a strategy that fits your style.
3) Discipline is optional.
If you have an investment strategy, do you also have the discipline to carry it out? Successful investment management can be tedious. It’s not just about following the news of the day. Top investors grind out gains with hours of research, looking for advantages few else see. Will you be able to find your style, get a plan, and stick with it in all investment climates? Self-discipline isn’t optional in an investment process.
4) Shirking accountability to your portfolio.
Somebody once asked, “If you can’t handle $5, why should I give you $10?” This is a good question to ask of anyone managing money. If you’re shopping for portfolio managers, performance will be one of the first things you check. Do the same if you want to hire yourself. Do you even know how to measure performance accurately? What are your benchmarks? How have you done in the past with smaller amounts? Were you successful enough to manage an entire portfolio? Were your methods repeatable? Do you meet the same standards you would apply if you were hiring a professional?
5) Manana is a Mantra.
Money management is an labor intensive time commitment. Having the ability to manage your portfolio doesn’t mean you have the opportunity. Other commitments like your job, your family or your hobbies may keep you from giving your portfolio the proper attention. You may not have the time to do right by your money. Make sure you can invest a good amount of time to your portfolio.
6) Kenny Rogers is a favorite.
Investing can be an emotional avocation and embracing “The Gambler” within can be dangerous. It’s hard enough to keep your emotions in check if you don’t frequent casinos. But if you find yourself drawn to the slots on the occasional weekend, trading your portfolio can supercharge the gambling element of money management. Earning $10,000 on a stock position is completely different than winning $10,000 at the tables. Risk is always part of the process of investing, but emotional exhilaration shouldn’t be the objective; achieving your investment goals should be.
7) Some dogs don’t like to learn new tricks.
Just like anything else, money management can be complicated. The vocabulary alone can take years to understand, much less master. Experience is the best educator. However, if you’ve never actively managed a portfolio (picking out high-performing mutual funds is not managing a portfolio), it’s often smarter to start small. You don’t want to compromise your retirement on a learning curve or come to a painful realization that you don’t enjoy the investment world.
If you’ve been able to avoid these behaviors, then managing your portfolio may be a worthwhile experience. A wonderful amount of information and help is available. However, if you suffer from several or all of these bad habits, then you may not be the best portfolio manager available. There’s nothing wrong with hiring some professional help. Several outlets can be of great benefit for most investors including working with an investment advisor, financial planner, or hiring a professional portfolio manager.
Another key is to find balance. Some investors need the assistance of a professional money manager but still enjoy self-directing their portfolio. You can easily do both. Taking a small percentage of one’s portfolio to self direct, while turning over the rest to a professional, can allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds. Just be honest with yourself. You and your portfolio will be much happier.